One of the most popular and convenient ways to travel in India is via trains. Truly, few modes of transport can beat the nostalgia and environment that train journeys evoke. There was a time when people used to queue up to buy tickets for their journeys but with the advent of Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), booking tickets became easier and faster. IRCTC was the beginning of the transformation of Indian Railways (IR).
Founded on 27 September, 1999, the organisation will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. But the journey to become one of the best ticket booking platforms hasn’t been easy. As time progressed and data costs, and smartphones became readily available, IRCTC had to deal with a huge influx of passengers. And it has done this task quite well. In fact, in the process of serving India’s 2 billion plus population, it has set quite a few interesting records.
From only 27 tickets booked when the server first came online to booking more than 13 lakh tickets on April 1, 2015, the organisation has come a long way in terms of handling the demands of its customers. IRCTC along with Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) have changed the face of not just how tickets are booked but also how goods and services are booked, confirmed and transported across the country. But along with its string of noteworthy achievements, IRCTC has had to grapple with a lot of data pertaining to its customers.
On an average, the site handles close to 5 lakh tickets per day. Translating that to numbers means the system sees about 5 lakh addresses, names, age, sex, quota, berth preferences, meal preferences and travel insurance preferences either as new data entries or as part of individual passenger history(s). This process is happening 24X7 and 366 days of the year with few to no server crashes. The system only rests for 45 minutes between 2345 hrs to 0030 hrs. And if we are to go a step further and estimate the transaction volume of one day, it is simply astounding. Taking a hypothetical figure of 100 Rs/ticket and 5 lakh transactions gives us a figurative daily revenue of 5 Crores.
But the big question is how safe is all this data? Though IRCTC assures its partners and customers that the data they’re entering is protected using industry leading encryption standards, there have been instances when IRCTC faced major breaches in its system. Thanks to alert and responsible hackers, the situation was diffused before it could have escalated to a nationwide crisis.
More than that, the Govt. of India is also considering monetising the tremendous amount of data it has received. From a data scientist’s point of view, IRCTC has a treasure trove of data. Not only would the data help in understanding the travel demographics of India, it would also help in ideating and implementing schemes, upgrading routes and providing a more sustainable and environmentally responsible way of doing business at all levels. But the major question is; To whom will the data be sold? Other questions also abound;
- Will the data be stored within India indefinitely or be kept on third party servers?
- How will customer privacy be maintained in the face of changing data usage policies ?
- How will data be used to empower allied transport and tourism services?
While IR is coming up with strategies to deal with the above concerns and more, these are interesting times for the national railway carrier.